Fill up your car and you feel the pain. The oil markets are roaring as the world’s second largest exporter gets chopped, quite rightly, at the knees with sanctions and 7.5 million barrels a day are under threat of never seeing the inside of a western vehicle. After the untold savagery of the weekend, pariah status is firmly and unquestionably endowed on Russia with an endless list of western companies pulling out and leaving well alone on a daily basis. Europe is a concerned place right now. 1.5 million refugees have crossed into neighbouring countries and hundreds of thousands of people have been protesting vehemently in the great capitals. Sport played its symbolic part at the weekend but the show went on and the applause for Manchester City’s Ukrainian play-maker, Oleksandr Zinchenko, as he warmed up on the touchline was deeply moving.
And into this mess flies Grant Dalton and the team hoping to secure a venue for the America’s Cup. The much-needed eyeball time from across the boardroom table is now do-able as New Zealand relaxes its MiQ quarantine restrictions but on the face of it, it’s a hellish scene to parachute into. However, connecting the dots, the monetary dots behind the scenes and if it is to be in Europe, the Qatar-backed Malaga is surely now in pole position.
A report early in 2021 suggested that Qatar has some $21 billion worth of investments in Spain and flights have resumed into Malaga direct from Doha. The former Prime Minister of Qatar, Abdullah ben Nasser Al Thani, owns the La Ligue football side, Malaga CF, and there’s money pouring into the region from the upper middle classes of Qatar who are snapping up the luxury end of the Real Estate market and finding rich pickings in renewable energy, shipping and infrastructure investments. A sunny place for shady people? Possibly. But the Costa del Sol always was.
The Spanish government has postured away from the Cup. Taxpayer money certainly won’t be injected what with war on the doorstep and a post-Covid recovery to manage. Governments can’t be seen to be frivolous in the current climate. However, it will be more than accommodative if private monetary sources should be miraculously found and permits need to be fast-tracked for Cup infrastructure and regional investment.
And it’s here where the Qataris can smell a deal. For a trifling $100m or so to fund the Cup, which is chicken feed as Brent Crude spikes to $126 a barrel with some market analysts indicating a peak of $200 in the near-term, the Qataris can get a shiny new marina that pays dividends long into the future. And that’s what the Gulf states all desire – long term, high yield investments that reduce the reliance on oil and gas. Qatar itself only produces some 580,000 barrels for export per day, but at today’s prices that’s $73 million a day and combine this with their natural gas exports which total around $100 billion per year and the context of an America’s Cup becomes clear.
This is high finance at a government and geopolitical level. The Cup is merely a vehicle to securing something so much more and if that sticks in the craw, well welcome to what our beloved, storied, America’s Cup has become. A deal with Malaga is a deal with the Qataris and whilst I don’t blame the organisers for jabbing their tentacles into any big-money source willing to offer up the lifeline of financing, I can’t help but think that there’s a mis-reading of the room going on. A Cup in Europe could be as flat as a pancake if the ravages of war continue. How can you conceivably be seen to spend private and corporate, maybe even government dollars, on a mighty sporting excess whilst a few hundred miles away a sovereign nation is getting thrown to the wolves? It doesn’t sit easily with me. I doubt it sits easy with you either. Will corporate America buy into this? Will anyone other than an oil man see this as a good thing? I fear not.
Views and opinions are ten-a-penny at the moment in this Cup void but the fact that uncertainty reigns at every corner is unquestionable. The decision that I feel has to be taken is to postpone any venue decision and perhaps even the event itself for the foreseeable future. The ramifications caused by the nuances of both the Deed of Gift and the Protocol will have to be sorted by cool, appreciating heads. These are extraordinary times and sense needs to be injected by all concerned around the America’s Cup. I’m not certain it will happen. I think a deal could well be struck on the gamble that Ukraine is contained and life will return to normal. As it stands today, I think that’s one heck of a punt, taken by those in a corner. It’s last ditch stuff. And searingly unpalatable.
I should be enthused by a Cup in Europe. I’m not. And I can foresee unintended consequences for our sport as a whole if a deal is struck and an announcement made in the coming days and weeks.
Ice the decision. Kick the can down the road. A Cup in Europe should be a terrific thing and the very thought of it was, right up to the moment when it wasn’t. The world changed on a whim and now is not the time for a Cup in Europe. That’s the truth. Deal with it.